There was once a magic portal through which I could see some of the greatest cars of all times. Cut through what then passed as a catch-fence at Daytona, the roughly two by five foot slot looked out on the last big turn before the cars headed for the start-finish line, and being there concentrated the noise, smell, dirt, color, and excitement of sports car racing as the cars were drawn by the laws of physics toward where I was standing. My private, inelegant name for the portal was Hole-in-the Wall; there were others, also cut for the benefit of photographers who had signed waivers absolving the track of responsibility, but they didn’t rate a name of their own in my mind.
Shooting there was a mixed bag; the opportunities were staggering, but the ability of the photographer and the equipment of 1971 limited the translation of this excitement into good images, particularly in color. Cameras—mostly Nikons—of the day were purely mechanical. Without autofocus and focus tracking, the best technique was to prefocus on a specific area of the track and shoot just before the car got there, to allow for shutter lag. A less desirable alternative was to burn through several of the 36 exposures available between reloads by shooting full motor-drive, hoping that one of the shots would capture the moment of focus—sort of an early “spray and pray” technique. Or you could—good luck—try to manually follow-focus as a 917 approached.
The noise there was shattering and no doubt contributed to my hearing loss today. The Corvettes and later the Mazdas—particularly those damnable, unmuffled rotary Mazdas—were the worst. But just being there, plying the craft, inches away from these incredible cars and their equally incredible drivers, made up for a lot. I eventually gave up shooting at the Hole-in-the-Wall; during an idle moment I did the mental calculation that told me that a car traveling toward my location at some 200 feet per second would get to where I was before gravity could get me down behind the concrete wall that held the catch fence. Chickened out, I did. Not long after Daytona closed it forever, and now only the memories and a collection of pictures remain.
Forty-four years have passed, and my ears are still ringing. But I would go back to the magic portal of that day right now, if only I could.